Women Who Opposed Their Own Right to Vote

March 28, 2012

"Unmasked" Anti-Suffrage Review (Sep 1912). Britannia, the symbol of England, exposing feminism for what it is: destruction of the family, destruction of man and woman, bound together here by a banner reading "Loyalty-Harmony." (Photo: Digital History)

BOSTON — Rallying around the cries of true womanhood, common decency, and the responsibilities of motherhood, some affluent and educated Boston women were vocal opponents of female suffrage in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While it may seem counterintuitive to us today, some women of that time believed that their gender was too excitable to make rational decisions, or they supported the notion that putting their own interests first was the beginning of society’s road to ruin, involving neglected children and gardens, as well as certain debauchery and divorce.

Aliza Saivetz, former director of education of Old South Meeting House, and Jayne Gordon and Kathleen Barker of the Massachusetts Historical Society explore women's participation in the anti-suffrage movement.

One of the leading female anti-suffrage organizations was formed in Boston, to “uphold the laws and traditions of Massachusetts and to be sure this burden of voting would not be placed on women.” The same powerful women who were responsible for founding the Boston Athenaeum and the Museum of Fine Art, turned their energy and influence toward keeping women in their proper place.

More concerning, however, than the arguments against gender, was the not-so-subtle desire to maintain the balance of power in the favor of an established upper class. In 1892 The Remonstrance, a pamphlet supporting the anti-suffrage movement, declared on its front page:

It is the average woman whom we must consider if we are to place suffrage in their hands….mostly foreigners without education, ignorant of the principles of a republican form of government. It is the influx of foreign influence en masse that threatens our own country hourly.

This lecture is part of "March to the Polls: Massachusetts and the Woman Suffrage Movement", a collaboration between Old South Meeting House and The Massachusetts Historical Society. See the full-length conversation and more women’s history stories on WGBH’s Forum Network.


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